The Janesville Jets completed the first half of their Alaska schedule over the weekend and came away with a series win over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
The Jets earned five of a possible six points over the three games with 5-3 and 4-3 victories on Thursday and Saturday, and still managed to get one point with a 5-4 overtime loss. The trio of games was part of a huge return to Ice Dogs hockey in Fairbanks, as the team had not played a home game in over a year.
The visitors wasted no time getting their offense going at Big Dipper Ice Arena in the series opener, and Cade Destefani scored at 3:23 of the first period for a 1-0 Janesville lead. Fairbanks did add one of its own in the second period, but a tally from Charlie Schoen two minutes earlier gave the Jets a 2-1 advantage through 40 minutes. The teams traded goals back-and-forth in the final frame, with Nick Leyer and Carter Hottmann scoring for Janesville, but the home team could not find the equalizer and an empty-netter from Matt Romer sealed a 5-3 Jets win.
Friday’s game had a later start and saw the home team shake off some rust. The Ice Dogs held a 2-0 lead after the first period, and while Cade Destefani put Janesville on the board at 7:54 of the second, Fairbanks quickly regained the two-goal cushion for a 3-1 score after two. The Ice Dogs’ Ty Naaykens brought the score to 4-1 early in the third period, but the Jets answered back in a big way. Destefani added his second tally of the night and Tommy Middleton made it a one-score game before Grayden Daul added his first-ever NAHL goal at the perfect time to tie the game at four apiece. Overtime only lasted ten seconds at the Big Dipper as Austin Becker won the game for the home team and tied the series 1-1.
Saturday’s series finale got started with a 1-0 Fairbanks lead after one period. The Jets then tacked on two early in the second from Justin Engelkes and Nick Leyer for a 2-1 lead. It was short-lived as Billy Renfrew scored his second goal of the evening for Fairbanks to tie it. Then, with one second left on the clock, Fairbanks scored a controversial buzzer-beating goal that brought them to a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes. The Jets stuck to their game plan nonetheless and held off the Ice Dogs from scoring again in the third period. Instead, Max Itagaki added a shorthanded tally, his sixth goal of the season, with 2:18 left for a 3-3 score and sent the two teams to overtime for the second night in a row. This overtime period was not as quick as Friday’s, but the Jets won it that time around with a goal from Cade Destefani for the 4-3 victory that pushed the series to 2-1.
Riley Sims was Janesville’s netminder for all three games. His record now stands at 14-2-0-2 on the season and Sims stopped 77 of 88 shots against him. Cade Destefani tallied six points in the three games, four goals and two assists, and was named Midwest Division Star of the Week for his efforts, the third time this season.
While the Jets couldn’t capitalize on any of their 12 power play opportunities over the weekend, they killed 12 of 15 penalties and added two shorthanded goals.
The five points earned added to Janesville’s lead for first place in the Midwest Division with 57 through 39 games, and the Jets have now officially punched their tickets for playoffs. The next-closest team, the Minnesota Magicians, are in second place with 49 points in 42 games.
The Jets continue their Alaskan road trip this week with a three-game stint against the Kenai River Brown Bears in Soldotna, Alaska on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (April 29-May 1). Thursday’s game is slated for 7:00 p.m. AKDT, or 10:00 p.m. CDT, while Friday and Saturday’s outings are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (10:30 CDT) puck drop.